The Voyager: Encouragement for Life's Journey
Below you will find articles from our Church's leadership meant to encourage you and give you insight into questions about life, faith, and God.
"At that time Jesus said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and
have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”
There is something about a story that connects with the heart of its hearer in a way
that didactic teaching cannot. Perhaps that is why Jesus told so many stories, which the Bible calls parables. The parables of Jesus have been a favorite subject of theologians and Sunday school teachers alike. They are memorable and relatable. The metaphors and allegories of the parables can be adapted to our own culture and circumstances. However, if we are not careful we may miss Jesus’ meaning, why he told stories, and what they really say to us today.
I know that you probably have no desire to distort the meaning of Scripture, but we
all tend to read from our own context and on our own terms. We want the Bible to speak to us in our world with our lenses and our preconceived ideas. This is something we don’t require of any other story. One thing my childhood fairy tales have taught me is that we all have the capacity to surrender to the story and let it take us on its own adventure. We have the same opportunity with the Bible. I have learned that I must be willing to surrender to the story of the Gospels before the story can truthfully speak to my life. The Bible wants to speak to me on its own terms and from its own context. Those of you who are new to the Bible may actually have an advantage over those of us who have grown up with it as a part of our daily life. You probably aren’t sure what to expect, where I, and others like me, had it all figured out a long time ago. We know the stories by heart. We can tell you what they say and what Jesus meant because we’ve been told by people we trust what to expect. Those kinds of expectations rob us of the experience of exploration and fresh adventure.
As a student of theology and teacher the temptation is to mull over the meaning of
Scripture in my mind, to study every word looking for a deeper meaning, to try to
condense the story down to practical points I can give my students to take home and
apply. However, if we are to surrender to the story we must engage more than our
minds, we must engage at the heart level and allow our heart to respond.
God’s Word is meant to be experiential. So what do you experience when you
enter the story of Jesus’ life and ministry as told in the Gospels? Maybe you see Jesus
as a Gandhi figure bringing peace and happiness to all. Do you picture yourself sitting at the feet of the gentle teacher? Maybe you see Jesus as the miracle man, the knight in shining armor, or maybe you don’t know what to make of him. Maybe the stories are so familiar that they are little more than ink on a page. Maybe you feel guilty because you know you’re supposed to be getting something from your Bible but overall you just can’t seem to engage. Wherever you are starting from, it’s time to lay down your past experiences, preconceived ideas, and expectations. It’s time to humbly ask, “who does the story tell us Jesus is?” It’s time to pray, “Holy Spirit, show us Jesus in the story.”
There is an unexpected adventure waiting for us if we can lay down our expectations
and surrender to the story.
In this article, Pastor Jeff reflects on Mary's words in response to God's will for her life.
“I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” (Luke 1:38, NLT)
This statement, uttered from Mary’s heart, astounds me. This trust is not based on that fact that the plan of God has been completely explained to her. After the angel Gabriel gives her a summary of what is in store for her, Mary is in the position to have more questions than can be accurately counted. She has been told that she, an unmarried young virgin, is going to become pregnant and give birth to the Son of God. Through her, the One who transcends time and space, He whose right hand spread out the heavens (Isaiah 48:13) would become a baby. God would encase himself in human flesh and walk among us, and it would all happen through her.
What about all the cultural and social implications of her pregnancy? How would her and Joseph’s families respond to her expanding condition? How could she and Joseph convince the society around them that the only logical conclusion about the cause of her pregnancy was not the correct one? These are only the beginning of the questions that Gabriel’s pronouncement did not answer. Yet Mary’s response is, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” Amazing!!
It seems to be reasonable for Mary to ask to know more about that for which she was signing up, or better stated, that for which God had signed her up. “God, I am willing to consider your plan, but I need to hash out some details with you. There is some need-to-know information that I have yet to understand. Explain those things to me, and I’m all in.” This approach to “trust” in God is typical to humanity – “Explain it to me, and I will trust You.”
Such an approach is humanism disguised as faith in God. It focuses one’s trust and reliance not on God, but on one’s own intellect as seen in one’s ability to understand the given situation. Proverbs 3:5-6 reveals the reality of Mary’s trust in God. She chose to trust in God with all her heart and not to depend on her own understanding. Mary chose to seek God’s will in all that she did, trusting Him to show her the path to take to effectively navigate, step-by-step, all the nuances of the circumstances that she and Joseph would face. Mary understood that she did not have to understand it all. She chose to trust that God already had all the answers to the unspoken questions that permeated her mind. Therefore, she chose to be a conduit for the miraculous, a means by which God performed a feat that challenges the wonder of creation itself. Through her, God became human and the world would never be the same.
The message is clear. When we approach God with the same trust that Mary exemplified, we are positioned to join God in the supernatural expression of His character and purposes. We become living channels through whom Jesus is revealed right into our situations and circumstances. This is the fountain from which transformation flows, both in our lives and the lives of others God uses us to impact.
As we approach the threshold of 2021, change in the upcoming year and beyond is not found in making “resolutions” that focus superficially on symptomatic behavior. True change is found in the attitude that motivated Mary’s humble words – “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” It is a statement of identity (“I am the Lord’s servant”) that establishes a context of trust that genuinely believes what God says to be true, regardless of our lack of understanding concerning how it will all work out. It is trust born of relationship, reliance on God that makes the time to listen to Him, allowing the Holy Spirit to progressively apply the truth of who God is to our lives, the truth of the character and purposes of God as revealed in the Bible’s pages.
Do you want 2021 to be different? Then take a lesson from the words of a teenager. Use the attitude and motivation of Mary as a template for your approach to life – “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”
In this study of Ephesians 6:14-18, we will be looking at the whole book of Ephesians in order to understand what each piece of armor represent. We will find that putting on the armor of God isn’t a daily declaration that “this morning I am putting on my helmet of salvation, I am picking up my shield of faith…” Putting on your armor is living in the reality of your position in Christ Jesus! It is believing the truth about what God has done for you because of his great love for you (Ephesians 2:4; 3:18-19).
We start with the belt of truth…
“In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (Eph. 1:13).
“…you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus” (Eph. 4:21).
The Belt of Truth: The Ephesians have heard the truth by the gospel having been preached to them. The result of them hearing and believing the truth is that they are now included in him who is the embodiment of truth, Jesus Christ.
“…put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24).
The Breastplate of Righteousness: Before Paul instructed them to “put on” the armor of God (Eph. 6:13) he instructs them to “put on” the new self, provided to them through the blood of Jesus (Eph. 2:15). By putting on the new self they are in essence putting on the breastplate of righteousness since that is part of the nature of the new self.
We should not be thinking individualistically about this righteous and holy new self. In fact, self isn’t a very good translation of the Greek word here. A better translation would be “new person” and it is the same Greek word used in Ephesians 2:15. Paul tells us in chapter 2 that this new person is created in Christ Jesus and made up of all those, Jew and Gentile, who have been reconciled to God. When we put on the “new person” of the Body of Christ our spiritual DNA becomes the DNA of that Body which is righteousness and holiness.
“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace” (Eph. 2:14-15).
“This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph. 3:6).
Feet Fitted with readiness that comes from the Gospel of Peace: Are you starting to see how interdependent these pieces of armor are? The good news about peace is that inclusion in God’s plan is no longer limited to those with whom he made the Sinai covenant. The law of that covenant created animosity between Jew and gentile because gentiles represented everything that Israel was to be separated from. But now, through Jesus, we all have the opportunity to be reconciled to God. Peace with God results and peace with each other! That is good news worth sharing.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8).
Helmet of Salvation: To understand this verse in the correct tense it should be translated, “For by grace you are saved…”. What does it mean to be saved? Paul describes it for us earlier in Ephesians 2…
“…you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked” (v. 1).
“God made us alive together with Christ” (v. 5).
Once you had evil at work within while following the prince of the power of the air…
“following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (v. 2).
Now you are in Christ, seated in heavenly places…
“…and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (v. 6).
Once an object of wrath…
“…we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (v. 3).
Now an object of grace…
“…so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (v.7).
Salvation isn’t just that he forgave us our sins, but that he has repositioned us in His Son seated above the demonic princes that once dominated us. He changed our very nature from objects of wrath into objects of grace. When the truth of your position in Christ gets down deep into your heart your mind is also impacted. Confusion about your standing with God leaves. Fear that the enemy will get you disappears. Performance motivation and anxiety is replaced by the assurance that Christ has already done all this for you!
“This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him” (Eph. 3:11-12).
“…so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith...” (Eph. 3:17).
Shield of Faith: Faith is the key that allows us to unlock all the benefits of salvation and our position in Christ. It is also what allows the Lord access to dwell inside us. If we are within Christ and he is within us, what access does that give the enemy to us? Appropriately, Paul uses the Greek word that describes a full, body length shield that will cover the whole person, in contrast with a small round shield used in closer proximity. The purpose of this shield is to “extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one” (Eph. 6:16). In ancient warfare flaming arrows or spears were hurled at the shield of the enemy in an attempt to get them to throw aside their shield and leave themselves unprotected. To deflect this kind of attack the Roman soldiers would cover their wooden shields in skins and leathers and soak their shields in water before a battle. If our shield is faith then the water it is soaked in is our communion with Christ. Without that ongoing communion (described in John 15) our faith can become dry, vulnerable to the attack of the enemy, and in the worst case scenario we may throw it aside in an attempt to fight the battle without it.
“In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” Ephesians 1:13
Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God: Notice that the sword Paul mentions in Ephesians 6:17 is given to us by the Spirit of God. This is the same Spirit who secures and authenticates our position in Christ’s Body. The “word” of God mentioned in 6:17 is the same “word” mentioned in 1:13 and should be associated with the Gospel that the Ephesians and heard and believed. How is the gospel like a sword? When the gospel of salvation is preached the kingdom of darkness is raided and its prisoners rescued and brought into the Kingdom of God!
Summary: So if we were to take away the metaphoric reference to armor and state the truths that Paul is representing here what might that sound like?
Remember the truth you first heard and believed about Jesus, that you are now a part of the new person, the Body of Christ, and that you have peace with God! This is the peace that you proclaim to others! Remember that he has taken you out of the kingdom of darkness and evil no longer has dominance over you. Believe that you are now positioned in Christ Jesus above every demonic spirit. It is faith in your position in Christ, and his presence within you, that protects your from any attack the enemy might hurl at you from below as you remain in communion with Jesus. When you share this good news and true word about salvation in Christ you are doing damage to the demonic kingdom.